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US Supreme Court Clears the Way for Khulumani Lawsuit

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Khulumani welcomes the order issued by the United States Supreme Court yesterday that the judgment of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in the Khulumani International Lawsuit stands. Today's decision of the Supreme Court means that the critical arguments that corporations should be held accountable for aiding and abetting the perpetration of gross human rights violations, can now be interrogated.

CourtKhulumani Support Group, a national membership-based organisation of victims and survivors of Apartheid gross human rights violations, welcomes the order issued by the United States Supreme Court yesterday that the judgment of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in the Khulumani International Lawsuit stands. This significant development opens the way for the case to go forward to trial.

The circumstances of the Supreme Court Order are that the Court lacked the necessary quorum of six justices to issue an opinion. Four justices were disqualified, having had to recuse themselves because of either holding investments in or because of having family ties to some of the companies. The Court consequently did not issue an opinion and ordered that the Second Circuit Court decision be affirmed.

The Second Circuit Court decision of October 2007 held that liability of corporations for aiding and abetting the perpetration of gross human rights abuses, does exist and that it can be pled under the Alien Tort Statute (ATCA). Under this statute, US federal district courts have adjudicated “violations of the law of nations or of a treaty of the United States”, including violations of core customary principles of human rights by private individuals and corporations.

The Khulumani lawsuit targets 23 foreign multinationals for having aided and abetted the perpetration of gross human rights violations in South Africa under apartheid by equipping and financing the apartheid government's military and security agencies. (See list of defending corporations below). All the corporate defendants in the suit had operations in South Africa. Khulumani is seeking damages for specific violations of internationally recognized human rights norms (extrajudicial killing, torture, sexual assault in association with torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, and indiscriminate shootings) by the apartheid government following the UN's classification of apartheid as a crime against humanity.

Having cleared the most serious obstacle to its progress to date, today's decision of the Supreme Court means that the critical arguments that corporations should be held accountable for aiding and abetting the perpetration of gross human rights violations, can now be interrogated. Khulumani Support Group's lawsuit is the most critical test case globally for creating global standards for ethical corporate behaviour and for promoting a culture of corporate responsibility. The lawsuit has the potential to alter the relationship between states, individuals and transnational corporations with respect to human rights. For human rights and social justice advocates, the case has been hailed as a potential catalyst in advancing international human rights law.

The success of this appeal comes in the light of a campaign that has been supported by an overwhelming majority of Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners as well as by numbers of South African and international civil society organisations and individuals.Khulumani Support Group welcomes the fact that the South African government has become increasingly aware of the potential of the case to serve the important objective of advancing an international order of human rights that includes multinational corporations.

Khulumani believes that the reinvigoration of the case at this point in time provides the South African government with the opportunity of clarifying its position on the Khulumani lawsuit and of working with Khulumani to end the impunity of corporations across the globe.

For comment, please contact:

  • Khulumani's National Director (Acting): Dr Marjorie Jobson: Mobile: +27 82 268 0223 Telephone: +27 46 636 2715
  • Khulumani's Attorney: Mr Charles Abrahams: Mobile: +2782 560 7152 Telephone: +27 21 914 4842

List of defendants:Barclay National Bank Ltd., British Petroleum, PLC, Chevrontexaco Corporation, Chevrontexaco Global Energy, Inc., Citigroup, Inc., Commerzbank, Credit Suisse Group, Daimlerchrysler AG, Deutsche Bank AG, Dresdner Bank AG, Exxonmobil Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Fujitsu, Ltd., General Motors Corporations, International Business Machines Corp., J.P. Morgan Chase, Shell Oil Company, UBS AG, AEG Daimler-Benz Industrie, Fluor Corporation, Rheinmetall Group AG, Rio Tinto Group and Total-Fina-Elf

 

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